Hearing your baby’s heartbeat is possibly the most satisfying and reassuring sound you will hear in pregnancy.
It’s so good you might be tempted to order yourself an at-home fetal doppler for a daily fix of the happy feels.
But what if you couldn’t find the heartbeat on doppler?
The loud klop, klop, klop that sounds like a horse galloping is a guarantee of instant happiness.
It’s real-time reassurance everything is fine and literally floods your body with love and connection.
But there can be problems with using a doppler at home. Many women say they couldn’t find the heartbeat on doppler and this causes a lot of concern.
What is a fetal doppler?
A fetal doppler is a hand-held device that uses sound waves to listen to your baby’s heart sounds.
Austrian mathematician and physicist, Christian Doppler, discovered that when wave energy travels from one object to another, the wavelength will change if one of those objects is moving.
How does it measure heartbeat?
Fetal dopplers use this principle by sending out ultrasound waves into your lower belly. The waves bounce back from your baby’s heart, which is beating (moving). The movement causes the frequency to change. This is picked up by the doppler, which transforms it into sound.
Can a doppler pick up my heartbeat?
A fetal doppler responds to movement so it can also pick up the beating of your heart or even your growly tummy if you’re hungry.
Don’t be surprised if your baby gives you a swift kick and you hear a loud knock along with static.
In other words, using an at-home doppler might take a bit of practice and getting used to.
How do you locate your baby’s heartbeat?
The best place to find your baby’s heartbeat is by placing the doppler probe over the long hard part that feels like your baby’s back.
You can usually find it along either the right or left outer edge of your belly.
It’s easiest to feel any time after 28 weeks.
If you feel most kicks and wriggles on the left side of your belly then the baby’s back will be on the right side.
If you feel more kicks and movement on the right side of your belly, it’s easier to locate the heartbeat on the left side of your belly.
If you’re going to order a fetal doppler to use at home, then it’s best to make sure you add ultrasound gel to your checkout cart.
Ultrasound gel acts as a lubricant that lets you glide the probe over your belly to locate the correct spot.
The gel also seals the bond between your skin and the probe and reduces static output.
How do I know what position my baby is in?
Place both of your hands, with the palms facing down, on either side of your belly and walk your fingers gently down the length.
Notice which side feels harder and has a more solid mass. This is likely to be your baby’s back.
Next, place a slightly cupped hand over the top of your belly, and push down gently to locate a soft round mass.
If your baby is in the head-down position, this will be the baby’s buttocks. Give them a little squeeze just because they are so cute.
Walk your hands around your belly, taking note of soft spots and harder spots.
Get a mental image of your baby’s position, based on what you feel with your fingers and the location of kicks and wriggles.
Where do you place the fetal doppler probe?
Once you feel certain you’ve located the side on which your baby’s back is lying, put a big blob of the ultrasound gel on that side of your belly.
You can also put it directly onto the probe, but do it before switching it on or you’ll hear a loud scratchy sound produced by the static.
Be patient when trying to find the heartbeat.
Rather than swirling the probe around all over your belly, place it in the spot you think you might hear a heartbeat and hold it still for a few seconds.
If you can hear something but it’s unclear then slowly move the probe downwards or sideways and hold still for a few seconds.
What exactly should you be listening for?
Once you find the right spot the heartbeat will be clear and unmistakable. It really sounds just like a horse galloping.
Your baby’s heart rate will range between 110 and 160 beats per minute, which is really fast but completely normal.
It’s also normal for the heart rate to fluctuate a lot rather than stay static.
If your fetal doppler has a display you can expect the number to change constantly.
If the number disappears but you can still hear the heartbeat then keep the probe in place until the display resumes.
Couldn’t find heartbeat on doppler at 12 weeks
You might’ve heard about mothers who find the heartbeat on a baby doppler as early as 10 weeks.
This is probably luck; or it’s even more likely they heard their own heartbeat rather than the baby’s.
Current health information says handheld fetal dopplers aren’t reliable in detecting your baby’s heartbeat until at least 10-12 weeks of pregnancy.
If you’re 10 or 11 weeks pregnant, it’s very likely you won’t hear your baby’s heartbeat for a while yet.
Before 12 weeks, your uterus is still small and tucked behind the pubic bone. This means it can get in the way of finding the right position to place the baby doppler.
Position the device low and direct it downwards towards your pubic bone.
If you’re still unable to hear anything, you can try again the next day.
But don’t worry! It’s a common experience for a mother not to hear anything until well after 12 weeks gestation.
Couldn’t find heartbeat on doppler
Even when you do everything right it can be difficult to find a heartbeat the first time.
If you couldn’t find a heartbeat on doppler, be patient and make sure you’re relaxed and comfortable.
There are several reasons you might not be able to hear a heartbeat if you’re using an at-home fetal doppler:
- Gestational age. The further along in your pregnancy the easier it is to hear your baby’s heartbeat. Most at-home dopplers are unable to pick up a heartbeat accurately before 18 weeks. It’s recommended to wait until at least 25 weeks
- Position. If your baby is curled up or away from you, with his back against your back, it might be difficult to hear the heartbeat
- Placenta. It could be in a position that obstructs the sound waves or makes it difficult for you to locate the sound effectively
- Noise. There might be too much background noise, or your baby could be restless. In that case, all you can pick up is static and scratchy movements
- Your position. You should be in a reclined position, which props up your uterus. You will find it difficult to locate the heartbeat in a standing position
- Bladder. It will be easier to locate the heartbeat if your bladder is full, as it props up your uterus. This is especially true before 32 weeks
- Ultrasound gel. If there is too little, you will not hear anything; too much will create air bubbles and increase static.
What do you do if you can’t find the heartbeat?
Not everyone can have the experience of locating their baby’s heartbeat on a home doppler.
This can cause a great deal of worry and concern.
Anyone who has experienced pregnancy loss might worry more than is healthy. This can be a downside to home dopplers.
If you couldn’t find the heartbeat on doppler, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your midwife or doctor, so you can ask questions.
They can reassure you everything is going as it should.
You can also speak to your healthcare provider or midwife and request an ultrasound appointment.
Ultrasound is more sensitive in early pregnancy and, with luck, you should soon be able to hear and see your baby’s heart galloping on the ultrasound machine.
Find out more about ultrasound in Ultrasounds in Pregnancy – Risks and Benefits.
Is it possible to miss a heartbeat on ultrasound?
Like most people, you’ll probably expect to see and hear a heartbeat if you have an ultrasound.
This will depend on how pregnant you are and the type of scan you have.
A transvaginal ultrasound (where the probe is inserted into your vagina) is more sensitive than an abdominal ultrasound (where the probe is positioned over your belly) in detecting a heartbeat before 8 weeks.
Even so, determining how far along you are relies on the accuracy of your dates and certainty about your ovulation pattern.
What happens if there is no heartbeat on ultrasound?
If your doctor is unable to locate a heartbeat you’ll be advised to make an appointment for a repeat ultrasound in a week, to reassess.
It doesn’t necessarily mean your pregnancy isn’t viable or that you’ve miscarried.
However, if at the next appointment there is no heartbeat on ultrasound, it’s possible your pregnancy isn’t advanced enough, or pregnancy loss has occurred.
If you experience pregnancy loss, your doctor will counsel you on what happens next.
Listening to your baby’s heartbeat is a wonderful way of reassuring yourself all is well, but also take note of your baby’s movements and daily patterns.
Notice how you’re feeling every day and respond to all signs of health and wellbeing for reassurance.
Always check in with your healthcare provider if you suspect something has changed or feels wrong with you or your baby.